Self catering accommodation providers said that bookings in January, usually the busiest month as people begin to make summer plans, had been “non existent”.
Their comments come as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she “hoped” that people would be able to take staycations within Scotland this summer, but said she could not guarantee it.
Fiona Campbell, chief executive of The Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers, said: “We are not seeing any kind of rise in bookings as there is no consumer confidence whatsoever. January is usually our busiest ever bookings month, but this year, nothing.
“I do think we’ll be in a similar position as we were last summer, in terms of self catering being the holiday of choice, but we’re still massively impacted by travel restrictions and what they are going to be. People just don’t want to commit to bookings. We have nothing coming in.”
She said that the First Minister’s refusal to guarantee a summer domestic tourist season was “catastrophic” for the industry.
She said: “Sturgeon’s comments have put an absolute strangle on consumer confidence. This has put a halt on the Scottish tourist economy.”
Ms Campbell warned that if Scotland returns to the “levels” system of restrictions after the current lockdown, that would still be difficult for rural businesses.
She said: “People who live in Moray are not going to book a holiday cottage in Moray. If the central belt is in level three or four and is not allowed to travel, then that is still a huge problem. We are essentially shut.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “70 per cent of tourism in Scotland is domestic. As international travel in the near future is likely to be zero, the staycation market becomes even that much more important for businesses which are just trying to stay afloat. What I am getting from members is that there is a degree of caution, especially at the front end of that, such as Easter the uncertainty is still there.”
Chris Greenwood, senior insight manager at VisitScotland, said: “With restrictions still in place for both UK and international travel, it is unclear what the upcoming tourism season will look like. However, if restrictions ease, we anticipate the domestic market will be the first to emerge albeit subject to travel constraints.”
Speaking in today’s coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to suppress the virus “to very low levels in Scotland”.
Se said: “I hope that gives us the ingredients to have greater, not 100 per cent, but greater normality domestically within our country. And I hope that would include the possibility of us all being able to support the domestic tourism industry by having breaks elsewhere in Scotland.”
She added: “If we do all of that I hope staycations in the summer may be possible, but I'm not going to stand here today and say that's definitely going to be the case by x date and everyone books holidays and for whatever reason it doesn't turn out like that and then rightly they'll be blaming me for booking a holiday they can't have.”
Scottish Conservatives shadow minister for rural affairs and natural environment Finlay Carson asked why the Scottish Government was adopting a “rigid and unfair” stance against the self-catering sector north of the border compared to others elsewhere in the UK.
He said: “Why is the Scottish Government adopting a rigid and unfair criteria towards Scotland’s 15,500 self-catering businesses denying them grants of £6,000 while their counterparts in other parts of the UK have received top up grants as high as £21,500. According to the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers there has been a lack of clarity and inadequate guidelines provided by the Scottish Government."
Self catering businesses are given £2,000 every four weeks from the Strategic Framework Business Fund – although this will automatically stop when the regions eventually exit from level four restrictions – even if other areas of Scotland are still unable to travel.